On this day in 1921, the Cincinnati Cobra, Ezzard Charles, was born in Georgia. Charles would emerge in the years after World War II as a heavyweight champion and one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the sport.
Charles achieved his first major success as a boxer in the amateur ranks, when he captured a national AAU title at middleweight in 1939. Charles turned professional and developed rapidly into a legitimate middleweight contender, with victories over fellow Hall of Famers Teddy Yarosz and the always avoided Charlie Burley. But the start of World War II slowed his career, like all others, and Charles spent time during the war in uniform.
As boxing returned to prominence in the post-war boom years, Charles quickly established himself as a major star. He beat a who’s who of major contenders in the light heavyweight and heavyweight divisions, such as Archie Moore, Joey Maxim, Jimmy Bivens and Elmer Ray. In 1949, Charles beat Joe Walcott for Joe Louis’ recently vacated heavyweight title. In 1950, Charles beat Louis himself.
Charles was knocked out by Walcott in a 1951 rematch, to lose the belt. Charles would later engage in two classic fights with heavyweight legend Rocky Marciano. Attempting to regain the title against Marciano in June 1954,
Charles make a rugged stand to take Marciano the entire 15-round distance. Charles is the only man to ever go 15 with the Rock. Charles nearly stopped Marciano on cuts in the September 1954 rematch, before Marciano came back to knock him out in eight, in a fight that The Ring named 1954’s best.
Charles is one of the sport’s elite all-time talents, but is often overlooked by all but the historians. As a heavyweight champion, he was undersized and fought in the lull period between Louis and Marciano, two legendary champions.
But as a light heavyweight, Charles is arguably the greatest of all time, despite never having held a belt there. He beat Moore, who many view as the greatest light heavyweight ever, three times and never lost to him. Weighing the victories Charles also had at middleweight and heavyweight and it is very reasonable to place him somewhere in the all-time, pound-for-pound top 20.